Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the British Property Federation (PGP 47)


  The British Property Federation (BPF) is the voice of the UK property industry. The detail of the BPF's membership is contained in the DTLR submission to which you intend to refer and therefore not reiterated now. Achieving positive reform of the planning system is crucial to our members who are largely dependent on the planning system in the operation of their activities.


  Without exception, all our members are concerned with the current operation of the planning system. The current system is failing us all, not just the property industry. It is plan led but too many local authorities have never implemented a plan. Others are out of date, and therefore provide no certainty to the developer, or anyone else, by being out of step with emerging national policy guidance and or changing local circumstance. There are too many tiers of plan, and too much confliction between plans, supplementary planning guidance and national planning policy guidance. The planning system depends on those serving within it, yet local authority planning departments are facing serious recruitment and retention difficulties. Lack of funding is another major problem. The Government's own recently published research suggests that planning departments are 40 per cent under funded. The private sector cannot meet the shortfall, nor should it, as planning is a public service.

  We are therefore pleased that the Government has decided to grasp the nettle of planning reform. It should be commended for doing so. In terms of delivering the Government's objectives for planning reform, one of which is to support the regeneration of our towns and cities, the Report of the Urban Task Force stated that the Government's vision in this area would never leave the draftsman's board unless it possessed the commitment and support of the commercial property industry. We agree with this analysis, and our belief is that the Urban White Paper's aim of improving the physical, economic and social environment will not succeed unless the Government addresses the failings of the planning system.

  The property industry therefore fully supports the Government in conducting reform to the planning system that delivers the necessary certainty, clarity and consistency required of it by developers and investors.


  The present system is overly plan-hierarchical, bureaucratic, unnecessarily complex, slow and inconsistent. The Government's proposal to abolish Structure Plans and the replacement of Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans with Local Development Frameworks will simplify the process whilst providing greater clarity. The proposal to regularly update the core policies contained in Local Development Frameworks is helpful, particularly if the emphasis on such frequent revision is innovation. In other words adapting core policies to allow appropriate development to take place that capitalises on changing circumstance, (which may be local or global), rather than merely as a further mechanism to exercise control.

  Community Strategies are not opposed in principle but must be carefully framed to avoid importing anti-development attitudes into local action plans and delaying preparation of the Local Development Framework. The status of Community Strategies needs to be clarified. Any implication that the Local Development Framework should be subordinate to the Community Strategy should be ruled out as wholly misplaced. Such an approach would fail to give adequate weighting to national or regional objectives. It would also fail to provide any certainty.


  The role of regional planning bodies is to champion wider interests. In this role they lack sufficient involvement with the business community and are ineffectual at delivering their aims. The current system of regional planning bodies has not succeeded in tackling the difficult decisions in respect of location of major development. If the Government is to remove Structure Plans then the ability of the new Regional Spatial Strategies to properly allocate for the correct forms of development will take on even greater importance. The role of regional planning bodies should be strengthened providing it is achieved in conjunction with greater business participation in their affairs. The replacement of Regional Planning Guidance by statutory Regional Spatial Strategies in which RDAs are fully integrated is seen as a positive step.


  We welcome the Government's commitment to streamline the planning process for major projects. In our view it is essential if our infrastructure needs are to be realised. Greater central decision making for major national projects will help deliver an appropriate degree of strategic direction to their implementation.

  In terms of the parliamentary procedures to be applied, it is essential that sufficient parliamentary time is granted to consider each application and that decisions in principle can be processed quickly through Parliament.


  Business planning zones would have application in business parks, the completion of development and occupancy of which can take a number of years. In these circumstances it would be very helpful not to be tied to a vision for the overall development that had become out of step with occupier preference or other issues. However one problem associated with their application in this area is the requirement to conduct a detailed environmental impact assessment of the development which presents practical difficulty, as for the reasons mentioned it can be difficult to strictly define at the outset.

  They would also have merit in bringing forward large regeneration sites. The biggest issue with business planning zones is to encourage councils to actually experiment with them. We are aware of only two Simplified Planning Zones ever being tried.


  The current manner in which planning obligations are addressed is unsatisfactory and open to abuse. There is uncertainty relating to both the quantum of expenditure and the timing of agreement. For these reasons we believe that reform is necessary and welcome the Government's commitment to conduct it. You will note from our submission to DTLR that our preferred option would be to correct the current system. We agree with the Department's assessment as to the deficiencies of the current system, as set out on page six of their consultation document, but consider that none are irresolvable.

  The current tariff proposals are unacceptable to our members. We are concerned that the inference in the consultation document is that all proposed developments, (above very low thresholds), should attract a tariff other than where there are "strong and specific reasons" for it to be negotiated away in order to encourage a potentially difficult development. Such expectations are unrealistic, they do not reflect current practice and have been arrived at before any measure has been made of the market's ability or willingness to pay them as opposed to moving elsewhere (either geographically or in terms of weighting to investment vehicle).

  The Green Paper envisages contributions to a wide range of social, economic and environmental uses. This reinforces a fundamental weakness of the tariff proposal, namely that it effectively breaks the link between planning obligation and the development which gives rise to it. The tariff, therefore, becomes a general development tax. We are also concerned that such an approach would come at the expense of addressing important issues that the development industry does impact upon such as infrastructure improvement. Either that or the tariff level would be completely unrealistic.

  The Green Paper offers no assurance that payments made under the proposed tariff system would remain outside the system for calculating central Government funding for local authorities. We remain concerned that any tariff-type payment would end up being used to fund normal local authority expenditure provided for through the Rate Support Grant.

  There is no clear mechanism for a local authority to determine, and without the ensuing delay accompanied with public consultation, to waive a tariff, or discount it, if it believes that for whatever reason failure to do so would stifle development.


  In order to bring certainty to the process the tariff payment to be calculated for each development would have to be seen as a maximum payment. There should not be any "top-up" for specific infrastructure needs related to the development. Local authorities should be able to negotiate a reduced tariff for individual developments depending on any number of difficulties associated with that development. For example if the site in question posed a particularly difficult regeneration challenge.

  In order to preserve the all-important link between payments made by a landowner/developer and the specific needs generated by the development, the first call on any tariff payment should be the infrastructural requirements of that development—eg a new cycle way, landscaping or new roads.

  A local authority should be able to use the balance of any tariff payment towards a prioritised list of economic, social or environmental benefits for the community as a whole. This could include affordable housing as one of, or indeed the most important of the priorities. But the list would have to be based on local circumstance, and with an emphasis on commercial realism agreed through the Local Development Framework, and once agreed not deviated from.


  We are broadly supportive of the Government's proposals in this area. The procedural improvements are greatly needed if the duration of a CPO procedure is to become realistic. A CPO procedure that takes five or 10 or more years to complete extends the anxiety that inevitably some face when facing the prospect of having their homes compulsorily acquired. The other issue that causes avoidable anxiety is the concern that an individual will not be properly compensated for the loss of their home. We believe that the best way to avoid this, and in addition reduce the instance of objection to a scheme, is to move away from the principle of equivalence (the principle that an individual will be no better or worse off as a consequence of loosing their home), by providing for a more generous element of overage or compensation to those confronted with the loss of their home or land.


  The Government's proposed changes are broadly supported. They are designed to allow the building stock, a factor of production, to adapt quickly to broadly similar but changing demands upon it without burdening the planning system further. There are one or two elements of detail that cause our members concern as they are likely to give rise to unintended consequence and we will therefore be advising the DTLR of these in due course.


  We have referred to Community Strategies earlier but it is appropriate to do so again now. If the Government's proposals in terms of Community Strategies are to increase community involvement, which we fully support, without delaying implementation of the Local Development Framework, or, equally importantly the certainty imparted from it, then clear guidelines need to be produced on the interaction between the two. A Community Strategy should influence a Local Development Framework, but not to any extent govern it, otherwise economic or infrastructure imperatives would rarely receive sufficient weight in the determination of local planning policy.

  It would be regrettable if greater community involvement came at the expense of clear, focussed and strategic plans that reflect the views not only of local activists and pressure groups in shaping the development of areas, but also the wider priorities of society. It would also result in failure to meet the Government's stated objectives in enacting reform.


  Planning has the potential to make a contribution to the urban renaissance if used as a positive tool to encourage the right kind of development in the right areas. In this regard a proper balance needs to be struck between expectation and realism. The focus on planning being used positively is important because the planning system will rarely, if ever, succeed in forcing development simply by opposing it elsewhere, instead it can only encourage it in the right places. The emphasis therefore needs to be on creating a planning system that does all it can to offset the inevitable risk associated with development, particularly that associated with urban sites. It can do this by providing certainty and consistency to the developer in the determination of an application.

  One way that certainty and confidence can be achieved is through the granting of outline planning permission consent. We are therefore very concerned by the Government's proposal to abolish outline consent which would have a serious negative impact on planning's contribution to the urban renaissance. Development is a high-risk activity often involving very large investments of capital over a significant period of time. Risk is contained and the way opened up for further investment through the granting of outline planning consent. The integrity of the development can be assured through accompanying conditions to the outline consent and monitoring. If outline planning permission is withdrawn it will impact most heavily on the areas that the Government most wants to secure the involvement of the industry.

  As well as not being able to force development in certain areas, the planning system cannot force people to occupy certain types of development. Not everyone will wish to live in the form of new high-density housing development that accords with revised national planning policy guidance on housing (PPG3). In these circumstances they may chose instead to live outside urban areas and commute. Presenting a less sustainable outcome than providing for a mix of dwelling types in urban areas and not one that would support an urban renaissance. Similarly, in the absence of a good local public transport service, businesses may chose to go elsewhere if confronted with restrictive parking provision for their employees or customers as provided for in PPG13 (Transport).

  For these reasons the extent of the contribution of planning to an the delivery of an urban renaissance will depend on the extent to which it is used as one of a package of policy measures including greater investment in public services, infrastructure improvement and fiscal incentives to the property industry's engagement in brownfield land redevelopment.

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